Craig Hignett – Supporters’ Club Q&A

by Dave Hearn

This is the ‘condensed version’ of what was said by Craig Hignett at Monday night’s Supporters’ Club meeting at the Riverside Stadium. It’s a shame I can’t post the whole thing and all of the detail but I think, in this instance, it’s fair enough to respect the feelings of the people who run the supporters’ club and the work that they do as an organisation. It’s not as if this is a post exposing corruption within the upper echelons of JP Morgan, perhaps, or something that could bring down the North Korean government from the inside, it’s just Higgy talking about the Boro so I’ve agreed to scale it back and do something more general this time around. Hopefully this one will survive the night…

Hignett started off by talking about how the job came about and what it entails, what his role will be alongside Karanka and what the Head Coach expects from him. He will provide something of a buffer between the boss and the players, someone they can go to if they’re not happy with something or need to have a chat somewhere along the line. He said he was immediately impressed by Karanka and talked about how professional he is, also talking about how Karanka has been trying to drum into the players the importance of playing as a team and not a bunch of individuals, which he thought was the case when he first took the job on.

Questions were then asked about the way the team is being set up – Karanka is adamant about the 4-2-3-1 formation and will buy players who fit into that template. Karanka realised very quickly that you need pace and power in this league so that’s why he went out and signed Ayala and Omeruo, to give him the physical presence you need in both boxes. Hignett said he doesn’t think what you do in between the boxes matters too much, you can play it long or play football through it, it doesn’t matter because in this division it’s all about what happens in both boxes and if you take care of that you’ve got a good chance of doing well.

He was asked about Leadbitter’s set-piece delivery, and set-pieces in general, and defended Leadbitter a little bit because he says that some of the players don’t make the runs they’re supposed to make, so if Leadbitter puts the right ball in and nobody moves for it it looks like a bad ball – he also stressed that Karanka sends the front four players out with complete freedom in terms of attacking and playing football but they’ve not been doing it lately and Karanka is incredibly frustrated by it. He was apparently fuming after Bournemouth on Saturday because the players didn’t show enough effort to play and didn’t do what was required of them.

The biggest thing Karanka had to do was instil a proper team spirit into them and get them taking pride in the team and the results instead of focusing on their own jobs so much – he reckons we’ve built a good team ethic now and the players in the side take great pride in keeping the ball out of our net. Ben Gibson was singled out for praise at this point, and complimented on his approach to defending generally. Karanka isn’t satisfied with draws and wants wins because it really matters to him and he is very passionate.

Karanka was annoyed about the number of individual errors that were being made when he first arrived and was surprised at how some of the players didn’t take responsibility for results at that time, so he had to put that right and it took time to do it but now we’ve got a good team spirit going on and everybody is taking pride in the team.

Hignett then talked about the way the team sets up – some supporters had suggested the team was too rigid and that we weren’t getting enough bodies into the box at times, and that the striker was isolated too often. Hignett generally agreed with those comments and said they’re working out how put it right, he reckons Tomlin will be a very important player for us because he is a clever player who can link the play up for us. He was full of praise for Danny Graham and it seemed to be the wide players that are the biggest source of frustration for the coaching-staff because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing and not taking responsibility. They seem to be trying to work out whether to play Tomlin as an advanced midfielder of whether he should play off the striker, and I think they’ve come down on the side of the latter and we’ll see Tomlin playing pretty high up the pitch.

As for the lack of goals, Hignett says he’s excited about the summer and about what will happen next season – apparently they already have a clear idea of what needs to be done, which positions needs strengthening, who will be leaving the club and who they want to bring in. He said Karanka has drilled into the players that they can’t afford to think that far ahead because some of them might not be at the club if they don’t do their jobs between now and the end of the current season, and he also said that the players have been reminded that supporters have already paid their money for this season so they need to go out and win the eleven remaining games and see what happens after that. He talked a little bit about how much the players earn and said supporters would be shocked by some of the wages, but not in the same way some were when Mowbray arrived, more because some of the wages we pay these days are very low in comparison to the rest of the league.

And that was that really. As I said earlier, it’s a bit of a shame we can’t have the whole thing to read over but I’ve tried to get the general gist of what was said across because Hignett was very honest and provided some good insight into how hard it is to run a football team at the level we’re at. I think there could be some exciting times ahead if we’re patient with things but Hignett wanted to stress that Karanka has not given up on this season and won’t allow the players to give up on it either.